Manila bombing and a Man of Peace

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By now most people have heard about the bombing of the Glorietta 2 Mall in Makati, the financial hub of the Philippines. For those of you who’ve never been there, Makati is the luxury shopping capital of the country, with old European fashion houses claiming their share of real estate right alongside Kate Spade and Kamiseta. Traditional Pinoy restaurants attract as many customers as the ubiquitous Hard Rock Cafe and California Pizza Kitchen.

At the moment 11 people are reported dead, with over 100 more injured. So far no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, although in a city that’s beyond weary of coups d’etat, impeachment threats, talks of Constitutional Charter changes, and the occasional kidnap-for-ransom of foreigners and Chinese businessmen, there’s definitely no shortage of theories and rumors.

I only hope that this doesn’t further increase the number of Pinoys who are fleeing the country for safer harbors (i.e., the United States). It’s difficult for me to write that, as I myself enjoy the relative security of living in America and have done so since I was a little girl. While I have lived elsewhere for significant chunks of time (Japan and, of course, the Philippines), this is where I’m most comfortable, having been raised primarily in this country, in this culture. I can hardly blame anyone for wanting to grab their share of this enormous, generous pie.

But I do mourn for my old country, not just because of the lives lost under the rubble of last week’s tragedy, but also because of what I perceive as its agonizing death in the face of so much corruption and the palpable sense of defeat. So many writers, artists, intellectuals, politicians, and yes, ordinary citizens, are rallying their fellow Pinoys and Pinays to stand up to the terrorists, the cronies, the cruel and indifferent rich who plunder the nation’s resources and ignore the poor and dying. But is that enough? According to the thousands who emigrate to the Middle East, Australia, Europe, and the United States, no.

When I was in Manila a few weeks ago, not a few people mentioned the extremely tight security in and around Makati. You could see it in the routine bag searches, metal detectors and drug-sniffing dogs that are just a part of life around the hotels and shopping malls that dot the cityscape. But I also noticed that, particularly in the entrances to the malls, the security staff are often quite lax about their inspections. Backpacks receive cursory glances, and more often that not, they’re only manually inspected and are then handed back to their owner around the metal detectors, rather than through them.

It bothers me that I, my mother and my cousins spent a considerable amount of time in Glorietta during our visit, as it was closest to our hotel. It’s a beautiful, sprawling mall that’s filled to bursting from the moment it opens at 10am to the time it closes late in the evening. But it bothers me more that despite the city’s claim of security, despite the presence of thousands of people at any given day within its walls, despite the country’s desperate attempts to attract foreign tourists (when nearby Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, even Vietnam get so much more of them), something this awful should still happen.

And the idiots in the government offices and at Malacanang will continue to get their panties and briefs in a twist trying to figure out what’s going on, while the rest of the country continues to plan their escape abroad, all the while keeping their head down and hoping that something like this doesn’t happen to them.

p.s. I missed the Daniel Pearl Music Day. However, I did see a very moving, very thought-provoking film this weekend called 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama, about the filmmaker’s interview with His Holiness in Dharamsala, India. I thought I knew plenty about the Tibet situation, but I hadn’t realized the extent of current Chinese atrocities in the region. I find lately that merely catching a glimpse of the Dalai Lama even in a photograph or poster is enough to make me burst into tears. The man is goodness and unconditional love personified, and he just exudes this aura of peace, something I’ve never found in any other human being, even the late Pope John Paul II. On the one hand, I will miss him when he retires and will mourn his eventual passing, as I don’t think we’ll see anyone quite like him again for a very long time. On the other hand, I’m starting to understand now that the tragedy regarding the Panchen Lama (the young boy whom His Holiness personally chose to be among the few who will discover the next Dalai Lama, and who was kidnapped by the Chinese in 1995 and has not been heard from since), while horrible and deserving of much more international attention than it’s receiving, is something that is of only minor concern to the ultimate global fate of Buddhism as a whole.

The Dalai Lama himself has said that the institution of his office is something that Tibetans themselves must evaluate, implying that his official role is only tangential to his actual mission, i.e., that of promoting peace and harmony. Like the Buddhist monk whom I heard speak this weekend, His Holiness is concerned not with converting as many people as possible to Buddhism, but rather with encouraging open and honest dialogue between warring enemies so that peaceful resolutions may be found. He only wants love among our neighbors, not hatred, and I gather that his tireless efforts, his amazing schedule of activities, is done in the name of disseminating this revolutionary idea as much as possible before his health forces him to retire.

I’ve never been a fan of George Bush and have often been ashamed of calling him my president. But I have to admit, I raised a cheer when the man not only attended the ceremony on Capitol Hill honoring His Holiness as the recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, but he and Mrs. Bush also chose to sit next to the Dalai Lama. Perhaps there’s hope after all for this administration, and for the possibility of lasting peace.

MRA

Meditations on What Can Be a Crappy World

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I once thought it only interesting that Mariane Pearl once said that she believes in the power of individuals rather than that of politicians to effect true change, but I think I understand what she means now. With all the scandals ripping through the news about this senator or that Congressperson or the governor of such-and-such state, I’m losing more and more patience and faith in our elected officials and turning more towards the actions and courage of people like, well, Ms. Pearl. Maybe she’s right…maybe the only real hope for change lies in the work of people with no agenda but their desire to make a difference, to reach out to the helpless and innocent and pull them out of their dire circumstances. There’s been a lot of talk about the need for peace and dialogue and understanding, but in the fifty years since the founding of the United Nations, we’ve only seen more war, famine, rape, genocide, poverty, and oppression than ever before, and this time on a global scale.

Writing appeals to me partly because I feel helpless myself when confronted with the intractable problems that continue to confound us. I vote, but as the 2000 elections demonstrated, it apparently doesn’t matter. I donate money to worthy causes, but so many more children are born every single day who will never know anything but struggle and pain — if they even make it out of childhood alive. I’ve worked for nonprofits for most of my professional life, but there never seems to be enough time and resources to really make a dent in one’s mission, and the need never seems to diminish, only increase.

And the cacophony of voices that spill over into the Web just add to the white noise. Lots of words hurled at others, very little really accomplished. Reasoned dialogue goes out the window in the heat of some very nasty exchanges, most of which reveal little but the sheer ignorance of the parties involved.

There’s a great special issue of Smithsonian magazine currently on the newsstands with the cover story: “37 Under 36: America’s Young Innovators in the Arts and Sciences.” Some very inspiring profiles of people who apparently aren’t letting their despair get in the way of their creativity and desire to change the world in their own unique way. I especially loved the story of Matthew Flannery, who started Kiva.org, a people-to-people microlending organization that crosses borders and cultures. It’s one of those God-I-wish-I’d-thought-of-this projects that can help restore your faith in your fellow Earth-dwellers.

There’s plenty more inspiration in those pages, including writers and other artists who are showing the world that not all is lost, that there is still much to celebrate about the world, so much more that remains to be explored, whether in the depths of the Earth or the farthest corners of the human heart.

Not that my own writing equals that of honorees such as ZZ Packer. But I do take comfort in knowing that my writing can transcend the petty grievances and minutiae that often plague my easily distracted mind, that there exists something more eternal and meaningful than what occupies the shallow attention of a limited world.

M.

Homebound

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Still at home, still feeling weirdly lethargic. The prednisone may be to blame, perhaps combined with the lingering fatigue from all the tests that I subjected my body to last week. Oh, and the ten-hour, one-way drive to and from Scottsdale. (Although, really, I shouldn’t complain…for numerous reasons, B. did the entire drive both ways, so he should be feeling it as much as I. The man is a saint and the best husband ever. And no, he didn’t pay me to say that.)

Did discover some awesome blogs while trolling around the Internet this morning. Deborah Siegel, a feminist academic and author, keeps a funny, informative blog with bits about feminist happenings on the Internet and beyond. Her new book (published just a few weeks ago), Sisterhood, Interrupted, sounds fascinating, so if you’re in the market for an intelligent, insightful take on the contemporary feminist movement, check her pub out.

She’s also turned me on to Blogging Feminism, a blog of sorts chronicling the various feminist-related blogs around cyberspace. I haven’t had much time to explore it much, but it looks to be a combo blog/activist community shared by several writers, with the intent to discuss and critique the use of blogs as a means not only of personal expression but to exchange ideas about feminism and how the movement can blossom in the globalized, virtual space of the Internet.

Yet one more site I discovered (not a blog) is Skirt! magazine, a feminist journal based in the Southeast that I wish I had known about when I still lived in the city that haunts me to this day, Columbia, South Carolina (deep sigh). Anyhoo, I love that it has personal essays as well as academically-oriented writings on so-called women’s issues. I love that many of the writers are from the South, a region not especially well-known as being a bastion of feminist critical thought. And I love that, in its skirt!alerts page, the editors urge readers to “invest in the memory and work of the late journalist Daniel Pearl” by contributing to the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

Speaking of which, a book I can now take off my reading list is Bernard-Henri Levy’s Who Killed Daniel Pearl? Seriously scary book, almost as much as Mariane Pearl’s account of the kidnapping and murder of her husband. It’s written in a decidedly odd way, as if Levy had scribbled everything down in real-time, in a stream-of-consciousness exercise, and then submitted the whole manuscript to his publisher without editing a word. That’s not to say that it’s not good, although the style can be a little confusing at times. But Levy does have some frightening theories about the possible suspects behind Pearl’s murder that begs the question, “Now, why are we in Iraq again and not pursuing Pakistan?”

MRA

Journalism at its best

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Yes, it’s been a month (over!) since I last posted. And no, I don’t want to hear about it.

And now for something completely different…

One of the freelance writers whose career I follow (and am constantly inspired by) is Mridu Khullar. She’s an Indian journalist based in Delhi, a city I love for its vibrancy and life, made all the more stark by the daily reminders of the impermanence of both. She used to publish a weekly (?) e-newsletter for freelancers called WritersCrossing, but now she’s focused solely on her work and occasionally finds the time to post on her blog.

A little while ago, she decided that she wanted to concentrate her career solely on writing that would make a difference, stories that were close to her heart. She’s since done a fantastic job, publishing stories on the aftermath of the Asian tsunami, the plight of India’s HIV widows, and, recently, a woman-only newspaper in India.

Khullar was interviewed on NPR‘s On the Media regarding that last story. It’s a relatively quick listen, about two minutes long, and is worth listening to, especially if you’re interested in international women’s rights and their contributions to global and local media.

And one more media-related story: I saw A Mighty Heart with B. on Friday. I’d read the book a few weeks ago in anticipation of seeing the film and was blown away not only by the narrative, but also by Mariane Pearl herself. Self-possessed, fiercely intelligent, with a phenomenal strength that Angelina Jolie could only hint at, she comes across as in her book as being in firmly in control of her emotions, despite the rapidly crumbling world around her.

B. and I were in Africa at the time of Daniel Pearl‘s kidnapping, and I remember being mesmerized — as was everyone else in the world — by the story as it unfolded over the following weeks. By the time the news broke that his body had been found, we had been in India for five weeks and were preparing to leave. I’m not sure why I was so compelled to follow the story, besides the fact that we were hyper-aware of al-Qaeda everywhere we went (rumors abounded when we were in Dar es Salaam that bin Laden was hiding in Tanzania, and then the same rumors followed us to Delhi). I imagine I felt the same as most everyone did, captivated as we were by this young, idealistic, handsome idealist who pursued the truth and died because of it.

Asra Q. Nomani, Pearl’s colleague and [unfortunately] a minor character in the film, wrote a sad review of it for the Washington Post, lamenting the disappearance of Pearl both literally and in the film. It’s a thought-provoking article, and while I don’t necessarily agree with all of her points (I do think that telling the story from Mariane’s point of view was necessary, allowing the viewer a glimpse of the desperation and frustration the searchers must have felt, with Danny having vanished without a trace), she obviously cares very deeply about the tragedy of her friend and former colleague.

The film reminded me again of the power of the media, and how at its best it illuminates the finest of the human race while revealing truths lesser men and women are too afraid to confront. The idea of creating dialogue to heal the ills of the world is the main thought I carried away from both the book and the film, and I think Daniel Pearl — the champion of dialogue as an instrument of peace — would have liked that.

MRA